Section counsel membership set

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Council members serve the Section primarily through their work on committees, including the Programs, Communications, Legislative, and Membership and Nominations Committees. Their work includes creating the annual State and Local Government Law Institute and other networking programs during the year, helping to maintain the section blog, and continuing to provide newsletters and other information. Section Council members for this year include:
Amanda Stakem Conn, Section Chair, general counsel, WSSC Water
• Kimberly Hale Carney, Section Vice-Chair, assistant attorney general (Department of Labor)
• Patrick B. Hughes, Section Secretary, assistant attorney general (Opinions and Advice)
• Robert A. McFarland, Section Treasurer, assistant attorney general (Department of Natural
• Frank Johnson, Past Chair and Newsletter Editor, deputy city attorney, Gaithersburg
Patrick W. Thomas, MacLeod Law Group
• John Mattingly, assistant county attorney, Calvert County
Christopher J. Mincher, chief legal counsel, Office of the Governor
• Jerome Spencer, general counsel, Charles County Sheriff’s Office
• Talley H-S. Kovacs, assistant attorney general (Department of Natural
Elissa Levan, partner, Levan Ruff LLC
• Kathleen Chapman, administrative law judge, Office of Administrative Hearings
• Roscoe Leslie, county attorney, Worcester County
• Tom Mitchell, assistant county attorney, Anne Arundel County
• Neil Murphy, associate general counsel, Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission
• Kirstin Lustila, assistant attorney general (Treasurer)
• Elizabeth Adams, attorney, Prince George’s County

Spring Institute topics range from appellate to policing

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Section held its annual training in June and, given ongoing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it was virtual. There was first a panel discussion on the Supreme Court’s 2022 term, including participation from Amanda Karras, who is the director of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, and Dan Schweitzer from the National Association of Attorneys General Center for Supreme Court Advocacy.

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Reach of Open Meetings Act expanded

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

House Bill 375 added a new Section 307 to the Open Meetings Act, making 17 more State-created boards, corporations, and authorities subject to its requirements. Boards identified include the Board of Directors for the Maryland 9-1-1 Board, the Maryland Clean Energy Center, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation, the State Board of Elections, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, and 10 others.

All will be required to use their websites; post agendas and meeting materials at least 48 hours in advance of any meetings, except for emergencies; maintain minutes; and generally allow video recordings for at least one year. All will also be required to comply with other elements of the Open Meetings Act, including closed meeting restrictions and requirements for training (which is available on the Attorney General’s website and through trainers certified by the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance).

Welcome to a new year with the Section

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

With summer ended, our Section Council will be meeting to plan for the upcoming year, and I congratulate our two new Section Council members — Kirstin Lustila, an assistant attorney general in the State Treasurer’s Office, and Neil Murphy, deputy county attorney for St. Mary’s County.

As a quick recap, our annual State and Local Government Law Institute was held virtually on June 17. We had terrific turnout for a virtual event – close to 80 people joined us.

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“Mudlarking” and “plogging” may threaten archeological sites

By Elizabeth Adams
Prince George’s County Office of Law

Mudlarking” is a hobby that finds its origins in “street urchins” that searched the banks of the Thames for coins or other valuables taken by the river and later returned to the land through the ebb and flow of the tides. “Plogging” is a more modern construct; it is a Swedish term coined circa 2016 by Erik Ahlström from “plocka upp” or “to pick up,” and is defined as a combination of jogging and picking up litter.

The commonality between mudlarking and plogging is the sometimes subjective decision as to what to carry away, whether deemed trash or treasure. And in both the cases of overzealous mudlarkers or ploggers, governments may find that undiscovered archaeological sites, or discovered sites that are not well secured, can suffer.

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Online dispute resolution in the courts increases access while saving resources

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Conflict management principles can provide solutions for ongoing disputes, and even lead to the creation of dispute system designs to handle categories of disputes. The use of computers has led to the creation of online dispute resolution (“ODR”) processes as well.

The growth of ODR has in many ways tracked other broad changes in the practice of law. While litigators are comfortable with court systems involving in-person hearings and filing documents at the clerk’s office, during the pandemic, those involved in court hearings grew accustomed to online Zoom hearings, and most county and district courts now accept online court filings and allow online review of court documents.

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Court of Special Appeals holds county immune in well contamination case

By Stephanie Pankiewicz, associate county attorney
Patricia Kane, chief, Division of Insurance Defense Litigation
Office of the County Attorney, Montgomery County

The Court of Special Appeals has affirmed dismissal of a negligence claim arising out of saltwater contamination of a private well. In Creighton v. Montgomery Cty., the plaintiff claimed her well water was contaminated by the County’s alleged excessive use of salt to treat the road adjacent to her property during winter snowstorms.

The Circuit Court granted the County’s motion to dismiss the claim on both governmental-immunity and statutory-immunity grounds. The Court of Special Appeals also held on review that the County was entitled to both forms of immunity.

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Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Section Council is excited to announce our virtual State and Local Government Institute tomorrow (Friday, June 17th). We considered an in-person event, but faced challenges in finding a space that is large enough for members to spread out while trying to provide a hybrid option for those who wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.

On top of that, the overall unpredictability of the pandemic led us to decide to have a virtual Institute this year. The one benefit of virtual is that it is easier for speakers to participate on panels, because they don’t have to worry about distance or travel time.

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Robert Levan, informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, passes away

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Robert Levan — father of Section Council member Elissa Levan — passed away yesterday, April 28, 2022. I know all of us in the Section join in offering condolences to Elissa. Bob Levan was known as the informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, and served as a mentor (with incredible patience) for anyone who called to ask for his help. He was indeed granted a lifetime award seven years ago by the Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association for the mentoring and development of his colleagues during more than 35 years of exceptional service and counsel to the Maryland Municipal League, as well as cities and towns across the state.

Courts have discretion to consider moot issues on appeal

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Court of Appeals, in In re S.F., ____ Md. ____, 2022 WL 324890 (February 3, 2022), recently confirmed that, even when an issue is moot, courts still have discretion to consider it. The decision involved a “no suspension from school” probation condition imposed on a minor, who asserted it was impermissibly vague as it provided no specific standards identifying when the minor could be suspended. 

The defendant thus argued that the conditions of probation granted the school board excessive discretion in determining whether the defendant could be suspended and thus in violation of the probation conditions. However, prior to the appellate argument, the minor successfully completed probation, and the State moved for dismissal based on the lack of any controversy between the parties. 

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